Bullying, Sexual Harassment Prevention Summit Held in Albemarle - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

Bullying, Sexual Harassment Prevention Summit Held in Albemarle

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Schools and law enforcement agencies from across the commonwealth are joining forces to tackle an all too familiar issue. A bullying and sexual harassment prevention summit was held in Albemarle county Monday to find proactive ways to deal with the issue.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the problem, but the summit was designed to at the very least point schools in the right direction.

"I can't imagine any school in America today that would say we don't have a problem," said Rodger Dinwiddie, CEO of Students Taking a Right Stand (STARS) Nashville.

For the more than 300 people who packed the room at the Double Tree Hotel in Albemarle, denial isn't an option. They represent different school districts and law enforcement agencies all with a desire to be proactive about bullying.

"The truth is that a lot of times when people pay attention to the issue it's when some tragic event occurs. The truth is that's the worst time to actually correct issues because we have a tendency to overcorrect or overreact," Dinwiddie said.

Jane Riese, director of training for the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, said, "Back in 1999 there wasn't a single state requiring schools to have policies around addressing bullying. Now 49 states in the United States are requiring schools to address bullying."

Experts say about 25 to 35 percent of children are actually involved in the problem, but other children are impacted as well.

"They are bystanders who make up about 85 percent of the children in schools and it can really create a toxic environment if left unchecked," Riese said.

One of the best things schools can do is to listen to how children feel by providing surveys as well as creating teams or committees that will enforce prevention practices.

The Department of Criminal Justice Services says it's important for schools to know when bullying becomes harassment.

"Teasing, or perpetual harassment verbally - those things can be termed harassment, but it's not actually in code so it depends on the severity of it," said Donna Michaelis, the department's manager of school and campus safety.  

The department has surveyed middle school students to learn about their perception of school safety and the department plans to do the same with high school students next spring. The report on middle school students will be available by late June.

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